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Copyright Essentials

Student FAQ

Although the entire Copyright Essentials guide has information intended to help students, this tab addresses some specific questions that have either been asked by NMSU students or that are common student questions. If you have a question that isn't addressed here, please feel free to contact us at

These questions/answers assume that you have read or are familiar with the information found in the Introduction  tab

I am using someone else's model in my dissertation. Do I have to get permission to do this or is it a fair use?

We recommend that you conduct a four-factor test of your specific use, but keep in mind that your dissertation is a publication that will be made available by ProQuest/UMI--a vendor responsible for the Dissertation Abstracts database and one that also sells dissertations and provides royalty payments to authors.  ProQuest/UMI states that they will hold authors responsible for securing all appropriate permissions. Their guide, Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis provides examples of the types of materials for which they generally expect you to obtain permission before using in your dissertation. If you have reviewed the general information, but would like more specific guidance, contact ProQuest/UMI:

Should I register my thesis or dissertation with the U.S. Copyright Office?

It depends. Remember that copyright law protects an original work automatically as soon as it is fixed it in a tangible form (saved to a file, printed, etc.). Because of this, you enjoy copyright protection without any need for formalities such as copyright registration.

Copyright registration can be advantageous in some cases. If you think it is likely that others may infringe on your work and you wish to have the right to sue for damages, it is a good idea to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If your work is registered, it is much more difficult for someone else to make a claim that they were not able to determine that the work was copyrighted. 

My friends and I rent and watch movies together. Why would you need permission for something like that?

You may not need permission, depending on the circumstances. A private showing between friends and family members would generally not require any special permission. In addition, copyright law permits showing movies in a face-to-face classroom setting when the audience is limited to the students registered for that class.

On the other hand, if you are showing movies in a public place or are holding a public screening (for example, for a student group or club), you will need to ask permission or pay for public performance rights. The right "to perform a work publicly" is one of the exclusive rights that copyright law grants copyright holders. It does not matter if you charge admission or not.

Please note that NMSU expects that any individual or group sponsoring a public performance will either obtain the performance rights or the written approval of the copyright holder. NMSU Library films are generally not purchased with performance rights.   

For information on how to obtain performance rights, see the excellent guide from Williams College listed below. 

What is the difference between copyright and plagiarism?

Both issues involve using someone else's work, but they are actually quite different.

Plagiarism involves using someone else's words, images, ideas, etc. without giving them credit. Plagiarism is not illegal, though it is taken very seriously by educational institutions, including NMSU, and the academic penalties may be severe. See the NMSU Library's guide, Plagiarism: What it is and how to avoid it for more information.

Copyright involves using someone else's work without permission and without a specific legal exemption such as fair use. Although it is a good idea to give credit to the copyright holder, that alone will not protect you from an infringement complaint. Copyright is a part of federal law and anyone found guilty of copyright infringement may be subject to legal penalties. In addition, NMSU students, faculty, and staff may also be subject to University disciplinary action.

In sum, plagiarizing another's work is unethical; violating a creator's copyright is illegal.

I like to make films and I have posted some online. I have incorporated other sources like background music, but I feel that the overall film is my own work. It looks like everyone else on YouTube is doing this too. 

This is a good question...and a complicated area of the law.

Sites such as YouTube include many examples of video compilations or mashups that incorporate copyrighted work. When considering whether these are infringements or works that are protected by fair use, it is a good idea to apply a fair use analysis. Are you using copyrighted materials to create a work of commentary or criticism? Are you creating a parody? These are examples of uses that are protected as a fair use under copyright law. If you are posting someone else's movies or videos without adding anything, this is much more likely to be considered an infringement. For a thorough and thoughtful discussion of copyright, fair use, and online video, we recommend the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video that is available through the Center for Social Media at American University:

You are correct that there are many videos with copyrighted material posted on sites such as YouTube. And, of course these online video sites frequently receive infringement complaints from copyright holders. YouTube's policies with regards to infringement allegations are available on their site and typically involve removing the material and notifying the account-holder of the complaint. YouTube also has a procedure for  filing a counter-notification if you want to make a case that your use was not a infringement. See for more information.